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Right: A classic Japanese Castle


Samurai & Zen


Miyamoto Musashi, unbeaten samurai , wrote a treatise on strategy that drew heavily on Mahayana Buddhism.

As in china, the Japanese government became fearful of the power Buddhist Temples had over the people.  Eventually they ordered the samurai to destroy many of the temples.  Ironically, this made Buddhism more powerful.  The samurai were warriors in dangerous times.  They were duty bound to hold their lives cheap, risking death constantly.  This was as hard for them emotionally as for anyone else.   They had assumed the Zen monks would run screaming at the sight of violence, but instead, many of them were unintimidated.  some of them meditated inside their temple even as the fires consumed them.  This impressed the samurai greatly and they began to study Zen.


This relationship went surprisingly well considering the rocky start.  Takuan was a monk famous for his perception and intelligence from an early age.  He wrote a famous letter to the head of the samurai clan that protected the Emperor.  The letter, referred to in English as "The Unfettered Mind" details the Zen concept of thought and its application to sword fighting.  In one section for example he suggests thinking of the motion and change of the sword rather than the sword itself.

Ink painting of Daruma (Bodhidharma) by a samurai


Around the same time a samurai called Musashi was making a name for himself.  He was literally unbeatable, once killing over 30 men armed with guns, swords and arrows using only his famous two swords.  Towards the end on his life he wrote a book, The Book of Five Rings, summarising his unorthodox technique.  The book draws heavily on Tibetan and Zen influences to explain his ideas.  It starts with Musashi bowing to Kanon (Avalotitesvara).  The name itself comes from the Buddhist Theory of the five elements, Earth , Water, Fire, Wind and Emptiness.  These are reflected in the Tibetan style stupas that were popular in Japan at the time.  The name of these stupas, Go Rin To (Tower of Five Rings), is almost the same as the name of the book Go Rin Sho (Book of Five Rings).


Zen also helped that samurai sharpen their skills be making their technique more spontaneous.


It later even split the major martial arts schools into those with a philosophical element (eg. Judo , Kendo , Karate-do ) (NB. all have names ending in "do" which means path, ie. the Buddhist Path) (sorry about all the brackets), and those purely about attacking people (Jujitsu, Kenjitsu, ending in "jitsu" which means technique).



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